Being the eldest in a household of four children with alcoholic parents who quarreled frequently meant Kopila was responsible for taking care of her siblings from a very young age.
At age 7, she was sent to work locally in a private home as a helper. At 13, she was sent to Bharatpur (a few hours from Bhandara VDC) to continue work as a domestic helper. All her income was sent directly to her parents, and Kopila did not attend school.In early 2008, she moved to Pokhara, where she was verbally abused by her employer and his family. She wanted a more effective solution, and also more from her life.
Kopila says her life took a new turn in June 2010 when the Pokhara Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), a World Education partner organization, asked her employer’s permission to enroll her in class. Her employer acquiesced and she was allowed to participate in non formal classes held for domestic child laborers. Kopila reminisces, “All the others in my class, unlike me, were so familiar with reading and writing. I used to wonder – how will I ever be like those who have learnt (the 3 Rs)? When can I achieve this?” She explains that she was so eager to learn that she resented extra-curricular activities because it meant fewer hours to study. Soon, she became actively involved in several class activities: reading aloud; drawing; taking turns keeping the classroom clean. The class facilitator says Kopila was different from other children. She loved learning and also loved teaching others what she knew. Although Kopila began at level one, the minimum level for a beginner, she soon advanced to level three.
The recognition Kopila received in class for her increased knowledge and improved scholastic performance gave her a new-found confidence. She was soon planning ways to reduce her working hours so that she could study more. Previously, her day began at 5 am, had short, unpredictable breaks, and ended at 9 pm when her core chores of cleaning, sweeping, and cooking were done. Now, in consultation with her employer and through advocacy for reduction of her working hours by PCCI, she regularly gets time off between 10 am to 1 pm to study. She completes her chores even more quickly for extra free time, where she practices sums and improves her handwriting. Kopila is also learning leadership and budgeting skills as Treasurer of the Child Club to which she belongs, and through vocational training. She makes and sells candles with PCCI’s help, and is able to save money.
When asked about her future aspirations, Kopila replies, “I do want to study, but do not know if I can. But I can go back to my village and help other children who could end up like me. I want to open a shop and be independent. I can count. I can make candles. Having survived so far, I can, I feel, survive anything.”
There are many children like Kopila. World Education’s Naya Bato Naya Paila is helping them get out of the worst forms of child labor. Education is the critical catalyst, which combined with vocational skills, enable the children not only to think about leaving their current exploitive work, but actually find an alternative solution.